Remote monitoring solutions have a low barrier of entry, offer numerous benefits and bring an end to some routine tasks that likely won’t be missed
by jesse morton, technical writer
The barrier of entry to many remote monitoring solutions from the bigger suppliers is low. The solutions are modular, dynamic, plug-and-play and user friendly. And they can be trialed on a small scale with minimal commitment.
The number of benefits they provide, however, is high. They can help reduce wear and tear on some equipment, create a safer work environment, identify inevitable purchases and maintenance, and reduce downtime. They can also do away with some repetitive, tedious tasks.
Admittedly, those tasks are of critical importance. But when rendered obsolete by technology, they are not missed by the folks that used to do them, suppliers say.
Bleeder Section Gas Monitoring
For example, Innovative Wireless Technology (IWT) reported a big longwall mine uses SENTINEL Wireless Gas Monitors to save time and labor by remotely measuring gases in underground sections, such as the bleeders and the gob. The win will be documented in a future case study, IWT said.
“The mine has a problem with excess CO levels in the gob,” said Jeremiah Colling, marketing director, IWT. “As they mine out, they need to pump in nitrogen to offset the CO. We made remote monitoring that
CO a lot easier for them by automating a previously labor-intensive process.”
The mine adopted a SENTINEL network for communications and tracking three years ago. Soon thereafter, it added a couple wireless gas monitors. Initially, the monitors were deployed near the longwall sections.
“They first tried a couple CO monitors and liked them,” Colling said. They monitored CO, O2, H2 and methane. “Then they said they could use a multi-gas version to monitor CO, O2, H2 and methane above ground.”
The monitors were mounted at boreholes above the gob and bleeder sections. “They positioned them at the mouths of the borehole,” he said.
The application was a new one for the technology, Colling said. “It was clever,” he said.
“They mounted it very simply, and spent a short time setting up,” Colling said. “Within just two hours, they were up and running.”
Routinely, air from the section is pumped up through the borehole and across the gas sensors. The monitors transmit the measurements wirelessly above ground to an office miles away. The SENTINEL network organizes the data for analysis and tracking.
“Instantly they could see the gas levels,” Colling said. “The readings are automatically logged. They can collect results multiple times per day, enabling them to have a more granular history.”
Previously, the task was done manually, by sending someone to record readings and then return back to the office to re-enter data into a spreadsheet. The work spanned a couple hours daily, and data entry errors were possible.
“It saves the mine a lot of time and is consistently more accurate than before,” Colling said. “With the extra points they collect, they can now monitor trends.”
After a six-month trial, the miner purchased additional wireless gas monitors for the rest of their boreholes. “This significantly reduces the time needed to send a worker out there,” he said.
The monitor is 11 in. by 9 in. by 3 in., lightweight, and is designed for underground applications. It can be configured for up to four gas sensors that can be easily changed out. The unit can run for up to six months on off-the-shelf D-cell alkaline batteries. It features a small, high-resolution, backlit screen that displays gas readings, alarms and the wireless network status. It is intrinsically safe and NRTL approved.
The SENTINEL Wireless Gas Monitor “supports OPC Unified Architecture (UA),” and “easily integrates with Rockwell’s FactoryTalk, GE’s iFIX and other OPC UA compatible systems,” IWT reported.
For miners with battery charging stations for mobile equipment underground, IWT offers a dual-gas CO and H2 sensor. “The charging process releases hydrogen,” Colling said. “The presence of hydrogen can interfere with a CO sensor reading.” The dual-gas sensor “picks up the hydrogen readings and it compensates so the CO reading is accurate.”
The SENTINEL Wireless Gas Monitor can serve as a stand-alone monitor, function in a mesh network, and operates as a repeater for other monitors in remote areas.
The gas monitors can be added to any SENTINEL network.
The SENTINEL Communication and Tracking System has received multiple industry awards and has been recognized repeatedly for improving worker safety.
Detecting Rock Movement
Conspec announced the Optio GM, a ground monitoring sensor for the modular Optio IO monitor. The sensor was co-developed for use with the monitor by Mine Design Technologies. It detects rock movement, and can be one of up to six sensors managed by the monitor, Conspec said.
The sensor uses strands that are cemented into rock, “and as soon as they move a bit, they send a signal back that can trigger an alarm,” said Tanveer Jahir, business development manager. “It adds more value to the system.”
The Optio IO monitor can manage gas sensors, air velocity and weather station sensors, and, coming soon, a decibel sensor. Recently, a particulate matter sensor was released. “There are about five different particulate sizes that we can measure for,” Jahir said.
For use at high-traffic transfer stations, the sensor has a small intake that pulls air through a laser optical trap. “It has a purge mechanism where it will rev up the intake air flow to a high speed to clean out the trap,” he said.
Optio IO, with edge computing capability, can be programmed to start a fan when the particulate count passes a set threshold.
It has an intuitive interface that displays sensor readings, Jahir said. Using four buttons below the display, the user sets thresholds, alarms and what they trigger. The monitor can run both fans and doors.
“It allows for locally controlled fans and ventilation,” Jahir said.
With plug-and-play capability, Optio IO was designed for ease of use.
“It has a low barrier of entry,” Jahir said. “You try it on one fan and will see the power savings because your fan operation is based directly on your air quality.”
Conspec offers Optio monitors hardened to be explosion proof. They can be installed with minimal network infrastructure changes. “Installation is literally hanging up the monitor and hooking up the gateway to the head end,” Jahir said. “If they have Ethernet and AC power, all they have to do is hang it up, plug in the Ethernet, plug in the AC power, and you are good to go. The calibration is super simple. Our screen interface is intuitive. If you want to change or add sensors, it is easy.”
Recently, the Optio monitor line was updated to support leaky feeder. “Almost every mine has leaky feeder and are using it mostly for voice,” Jahir said. “Even though it is antiquated technology, a lot of miners are reluctant to remove it because it has worked so well.”
The monitors can be configured for battery power. At a mine with a leaky feeder or wireless network, the monitor can be hung and connected to the network, and will run for months. “These monitors, in general, use a low-powered transmission,” Jahir said. “All that data can be seen on the screen on the monitor, which makes it easy to troubleshoot and figure out what is going on.”
The data can also be organized and displayed by Senturion S950 software. It can handle data coming in from up to 255 addresses per trunk line. “It is a very powerful tool,” Jahir said.
“You can set it up to control fans, to control doors, to control alarming,” Jahir said. “You can set it up to have a lot of different automation features to where you can take averages over a few different monitors and then use that as your alarm values, turn on and turn off section alarms, and other things like that.”
The software is Windows-based and supports custom graphics. Benefits offered include reduced downtime and increased production, improved safety, and lowered costs through improved problem solving. It has been successfully used to help cut ventilation power costs.
“It is simple and easy to use,” Jahir said. The software has been deployed to mines around the world.
The current line of Optio monitors is the climax of more than five decades of evolution. Units of predecessor models released 30 years ago can still be found in mines today, Jahir said. “We built a reputation as a company that makes monitors that are customizable, that are unique to different applications, and that are reliable,” he said.
“The monitors do exactly what you want. You can install and then you can forget about them, and they will just run,” Jahir said. “That is how we built up our business, on reliable monitors that solve issues and end nuisance alarming.”
Anticipating Conveyor Bearing Failure
Precision Pulley & Idler’s (PPI) automated, wireless Vayeron Smart-Idler system for remote monitoring of conveyors alarms for overheating and failing bearings and rollers to help prevent combustion, downtime and unplanned maintenance. Data from the system can be used to track trends, plan preventative maintenance and more efficiently allocate manpower, the supplier said.
The system uses advanced technology from IoT solutions provider Vayeron, which also makes an inclinometer for longwall system automation and gateways for conveyor networks. “The Vayeron patented technology has an integrated sensor inside PPI’s idler roller, temperature sensors for each bearing, and generates its own power,” said Jim Masek, senior product engineering manager, PPI.
“The sensor processes this information and transmits this information wirelessly to the communication gateway,” he said. “Each roller communicates with the rollers around it to create a robust mesh network.”
The system nixes the need for workers to walk, inspect and manually monitor the conveyor. Bulk roller change-outs in large sections can be eliminated. The data generated by the system can be used by inventory management to plan purchasing and storage, and to track trends.
The system has a relatively low barrier of entry. After the gateway is installed, which is “often as simple as mounting an electric enclosure and hooking up the power supply, the rollers are drop-in replacements for conventional conveyor rollers,” Masek said.
“The laborious manual tagging or data entry process when recording a roller failure is replaced by a scanner or an android phone, which can assign frame location and idler number to the newly inserted smart roller,” he said. “This allows physical location information to be matched to a smart roller that will send a condition alert back to base.”
PPI recommends trialing it at problem areas where roller failure is higher than average or where inspection is challenging. “By targeting these areas first, and installing batches of rollers in these areas, a faster realization of the benefits of the Vayeron Smart-Idler technology, and therefore a greater return on investment, can be achieved,” Masek said.
“After problem areas are addressed, more widespread coverage can be achieved by replacing conventional rollers with Vayeron Smart-Idler-enabled rollers as a part of the site’s regular maintenance roller change-out schedule,” he said. “Over a period of time, it is possible to phase in comprehensive use of the technology across the entire site.”
One customer started with 245 smart rollers to prove the technology. “This initial installation gave them insight into some issues with the conveyor belt not making contact with some of the idler rollers,” Masek said. “From this first test they have placed three more orders.”
Separately, an underground coal mine had a conveyor with a history of fires, roller failures, limited accessibility, and, as a result, high costs. Historically, the mine coped by hiring inspection personnel “at a cost of $1,500 per day, two times per week, which equals $156,000 per year,” PPI said.
The mine trialed Vayeron Smart-Idlers at the loop take-ups. The system successfully predicted exact roller failures. The mine was then able to replace only those rollers.
The system helped the mine reduce downtime, and reduce yearly costs associated with the conveyor by 60%. “The cost of adopting the Smart-Idler system was only $42,840 per year in hardware and $1,000 per meter in software,” PPI said. “All rollers are now monitored 24/7 and leading indicators of failure are reported to maintenance personnel in real time.”
Outcomes and savings will differ depending on site specifics, but typically add up to a quick win, Masek said. “Every operation knows the cost to the bottom line associated with unplanned downtime, lost time injuries and production delays,” he said. “By eliminating these associated costs, the total cost of ownership of the roller can be reduced significantly and personnel can be assigned to more critical tasks.”
The system “provides a previously non-existent safety net allowing you to get the most life out of your roller before it fails and causes damage,” Masek said. “This can save millions per year for some operations.”
Vayeron developed the system and PPI started testing in late 2019. Testing ran for over a year. The end result is “the only system that monitors temperature, acoustics, vibration and roller shell-wear, to accurately predict roller failure in advance,” Masek said.
“It is also the only technology in the world that will hone in on the exact roller that is failing,” he said. “There is no substitute for monitoring the problem at the source and utilizing the array of detection methods that Smart-Idler employs.”
Predicting Conveyor Maintenance
Future Fiber Technologies contracted Strata Worldwide to distribute Aura IQ, a conveyor belt monitoring solution that improves safety and reduces downtime by warning of failures beforehand. Strata Worldwide will represent the solution in North America, South America and Australia.
For predictive maintenance purposes, the system uses state-of-the-art technology to track failure progression and flag wear symptoms, said Future Fibers Technologies, an Ava Rick Group Co.
“Aura IQ uses fiber-optic cable and revolutionary photonic sensing technology, integrated with advanced signal processing algorithms and predictive analytics, to monitor and proactively track the health of the rollers along mining conveyor belts to ensure that they are in stable condition and not at risk of failure,” said Andrew Hames, head of innovation. “It predicts which components will need repair before they break down, allowing a mining operation to locate failed parts quickly, be proactive about repairs, and schedule maintenance on a schedule that makes the most sense.”
Proactive maintenance and reduced downtime help it achieve a rapid return on investment. “The Aura IQ solution can quickly and safely identify and classify specific early-stage conveyor roller failure modes and symptoms, providing unique and timely information for improved and more efficient maintenance, increased operational per-
formance and enhanced health and safety risk management,” Hames said.
“The data can be integrated into on-site reporting and planned maintenance schedules,” he said. “This substantially reduces costs by eliminating unplanned maintenance work, extending the life cycle of idlers and keeping both personnel and operations safe and healthy.”
Field results prove it. When trialed at a South African coal operation, Aura IQ reduced maintenance and man hours spent monitoring. It also prolonged the life of rollers.
The system helped the mine hit its performance goals, and gave an annual cost savings of $5 million, Future Fiber Technologies said. The miner reported a 4% gain in efficiency and a return on investment within a half year.
Starting in 2016, Aura IQ was co-developed by Future Fiber Technologies and Mining3. The solution was released for commercial applications in 2019, and can be used both above ground and underground.
The development adds another top-performing solution to Strata’s portfolio, said Mike Berube, CEO, Strata Worldwide. “We are very well-known for our leading collection of underground communication and monitoring networks, and now the Aura IQ system adds belt safety and maintenance to our advanced technology offerings.”
Democratizing Environmental Telemetry
In-Situ reported VuLink, an environmental telemetry solution, was designed to be low-cost, reliable, and easy to deploy to make more near-real-time ground water data available to more miners.
“Specifically in the mining space, cost efficiency is a high priority,” said Matt Trumbo, product manager, software, In-Situ. “With VuLink, users can avoid the expense and risk of data collection in the field, and collect decision-quality data from anywhere.”
The cellular turnkey monitor is Bluetooth- and Wi-Fi-capable. It works “within In-Situ’s shared ecosystem to make it easier than ever to collect, access, and manage data,” Trumbo said. “VuLink uses In-Situ’s software platforms, the VuSitu mobile app and HydroVu data services, for seamless data access and management in near real time.”
VuSitu can be installed on an iOS or Android device. “Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) communications support connection without pairing or cables,” Trumbo said. “And Beacon Mode BLE communications lets you connect to VuLink and connected instruments without physical access.”
HydroVu is accessed over the web and can be used to manage multiple monitors on large networks. “Responsive dashboards and network-wide visibility keep you in control of your instrumentation and data,” he said. “VuLink, together with In-Situ instrumentation, VuSitu and HydroVu, works better than any pieced-together solution.”
The primary benefit of the monitor may be ease of use. “Historically, telemetry has been very complicated, but In-Situ has broken those barriers,” Trumbo said.
“To set up and deploy, simply scan the QR code on the device to connect to the cloud, connect VuLink to the sensor or monitoring instrument, turn it on and mount it,” he said. “A set of lights clearly indicates that the unit is connected and working.”
VuLink is compact, roughly 2 in. in diameter, and “fits easily in a pipe or well,” Trumbo said. It has “one-press setup, long-lasting power using off-the-shelf alkaline batteries, and a low cost at $795.”
It is a “dedicated IoT solution that’s less expensive because it doesn’t require solar panels or a complex mounting solution,” he said.
In-Situ developed the solution to democratize environmental telemetry. The “goal was to bring the power and convenience of a cloud-based solution to everyone,” Trumbo said. “People who’ve thought that data transfer isn’t something they want to mess with now have a simple solution for less than the cost of a monitoring instrument.”
It can answer a multitude of challenges facing miners trying to gather data on groundwater, he said.
“Despite the fact that environmental telemetry has been around for decades, it’s estimated that less than 10% of water-monitoring instruments used in the field are connected to telemetry,” Trumbo said. “These numbers are surprisingly low, but understandable given that traditional telemetry systems are antiquated, connections are cumbersome, and software setup is difficult. VuLink changes all of that.”
Cutting the Learning Curve
Mirenco tapped Matrix Team to distribute its data-gathering telematics products, which can be adopted as parts of programs and systems that give real-time data on engines and equipment.
The data can be used in predictive analytics to help mines manage machines more efficiently and conduct proactive maintenance, which pays dividends, Mirenco said.
“Getting data is relatively easy in today’s connected world but knowing what the data tells you about your fleet is where Mirenco stands apart,” CEO Dwayne Fosseen said. “Planned, preventative maintenance is always more cost-effective than sudden downtime.”
Answering another important need, the Mirenco solutions can be used to help new hires learn the ropes faster, Matrix Team said.
“With today’s workforce shortages and turnover rates, the predictive maintenance piece can help mines cut the learning curve for new miners and equipment operators so that the mine stays on top of engine performance status and preempt crises,” said Brad Coats, technical sales representative, Matrix Team.
The Mirenco Diesel Evaluation Program (MDEP) uses sensors for exhaust and gas testing. The Equipment Production Monitoring System analyzes production and sends sensor and location data. Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) Regeneration Monitoring uses a thermocouple sensor installed in a tailpipe. The Universal Air Filter Monitor (UAFM) detects vacuums in air filters.
The sensors can typically be installed by mine personnel. The systems and program help improve engine reliability and performance, extend the time between rebuilds, and improve maintenance planning. They can be used to build reports for regulating agencies.
They were developed based on prior work with those agencies. “Mirenco started doing diesel evaluations working with the EPA and the Department of Energy, and ultimately began working directly with OEM manufacturers and individual customers,” Coats said.
Mirenco sensors use both Wi-Fi and cellular to move data, which can then trigger emails and alerts. The systems and programs organize the data to give actionable insights.
“Mirenco has a unique advantage in that they have experienced people analyzing the data, and identifying the information and actions important to its customers,” Coats said. “Mirenco provides not only raw data but identifies the information needed that has been analyzed for importance by knowledgeable, experienced personnel and presented in a clear, usable format.”
Previously, Mirenco products have been widely adopted and deployed. Feedback from the field proves their viability, Coats said.
“When Mirenco began working with several mines, personnel would go in and notice that the ceilings were black due to excessive diesel particulate matter,” he said. “Mirenco was able to evaluate the equipment and provide guidance to increase engine performance,” Coats said. “Now, in the new parts of these mines, you don’t see the black on the ceilings.”
The partnership adds to the Matrix Team portfolio another top-tier offering that “supports mines in achieving their increased production goals and safety initiatives,” Coats said. “Matrix is getting the tools in place to help mines move into the future.”
One such tool is the Power Line Module (PLM), which provides data-collection capabilities to any machine powered by an HV trailing cable.
“PLM enables strong, secure communications between a range of devices, including continuous miners, shuttle cars, roof bolters, feeders and longwall systems, over trailing power cables,” said Tracy Hayford, director of technology, Matrix Team. An optional integrated WiFi access point can provide a hot spot around the machine.
“Installation must meet MSHA requirements on machinery used at the mining face,” Hayford said. “Matrix has developed an XP enclosure specifically designed for this application and can assist with approvals.”
One mining company uses PLMs on their rebuilt continuous miners for data collection from Ethernet-based controllers. They also uses the modules to move data from Matrix’s IntelliZone proximity detection system.
“Our goal is to provide mine operators with the ability to collect data from all mining processes,” Hayford said. “As real-time data processing continues to enable productivity gains throughout the mining industry, maximizing productivity insights, data gathering and communications with underground equipment is more important than ever.”